Charter Schools in the States: Authorizing Charter Schools

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Charter Schools in the States Series

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Hands typing on a computerCharter schools are publicly funded, privately managed and semi-autonomous schools of choice. They do not charge tuition. They must hold to the same academic accountability measures as traditional schools. They receive public funding similarly to traditional schools. However, they have more freedom over their budgets, staffing, curricula and other operations. In exchange for this freedom, they must deliver academic results and there must be enough community demand for them to remain open. The number of charter schools has continued to grow since the first charter law was passed in Minnesota in 1991. Some have delivered great academic results, but others have closed because they did not deliver on promised results. Because state laws enable and govern charter schools, state legislatures are important to ensuring their quality. This series provides information about charter schools and state policy topics, including finance, authorizing, limits to expansion, teaching, facilities and student achievement.

Authorizing Charter Schools

After two decades of experience with charter schools, state legislators want to ensure these schools are effective. According to the Center for Reinventing Education, recent legislation deals more with expansion and quality than early charter school legislation did. The process of authorizing charter schools addresses both the number of schools to be allowed and the quality of the schools. Thus, the topic of authorizing is relevant and important to current debates. Authorizing is the process of approving an application for a charter, negotiating a contract, overseeing a school and deciding whether to close a school at the end of its charter or renew its contract. State laws dictate which entities have authorizing powers and the roles they play in holding charter schools accountable for effectiveness.

Rigorous authorizing is critical to ensuring high-quality charter schools. State legislators pass laws about charter school operations and are publicly accountable for ensuring quality. The authorizers, however, directly hold charters accountable for results. Authorizers not only allow promising applicants to open schools, but also close ineffective schools.

When charter laws were first enacted, school districts were the main authorizers. Later, states allowed other types of organizations to become authorizers in order to allow growth of charter schools, create competition and ensure quality authorizing. Quantity alone, however, did not have the intended effect on quality. Now, stakeholders are focusing on quality in legislation and practices. This brief covers what authorizers do, identifies who authorizers are, discusses state authorizing policies and offers policy questions for consideration.


This brief discusses the following topics related to the authorizing of charter schools:

  • What Do Authorizers Do?
  • Who Are Authorizers?
  • Components of Effective
    Authorizing Policies
  • Policy Questions to Consider